Jan 16, 2017

Math U See and All the Supplements

Welcome back to the 2017 Virtual Curriculum Fair!!! A group of homeschool mommy bloggers, led by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts and Minds are blogging inspiration and hope through the dreary and blah month of January. We have talked about:

See How We Learn

Playing With Words

and this week we are talking about Discovering Patterns in math and/or mathematical sciences.

Our main math program is Math U See. We have used it for years and I don't see us ever changing. It works for my kid who excels in math. It works for my kids who are "meh" in math. It works for my kids who struggle in math. It works for me, the mom who doesn't know or understand math, the mom who is allergic to anything requiring numbers. So there we are. I talk about Math U See and how we use it here.

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This post is more about the supplements we use to help us hone our math skills.

My kids catch on to concepts quickly, but will forget them just as quickly if we don't use them. I am glad that MUS has a lot of built in review, which helps us tremendously, but sometimes even that isn't enough for certain concepts. In those cases, I love the freedom that comes with Khan Academy.

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Khan Academy is free. It is also easy for my kids to navigate on their own. Nate, (12 year old) especially enjoys playing with the math lessons at Khan Academy. I say "playing" because, while he dislikes math when he has to do it for school, the freedom of choosing which lessons to do and the excitement of doing math online makes Khan a pleasure for him. A pleasure he would quickly lose if he had to do it for regular school. So it remains a supplement.

We also, every day, use Wrap Ups. I have four of them, one for addition, one for subtraction, one for multiplication and one for division. At the end of our Morning Meeting every day, each kid grabs their wrap up and I get out my timer. If they can correctly complete a key on their wrap up in less than 30 seconds then they get to move on to the next key. Once they work their way through the entire wrap up, they switch with a sibling and start over. We do three rounds every day. This simple exercise takes up 3 to 5 minutes of our day and they LOVE it. It has helped so much with their math facts.

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Other helps for math facts include:

Xtra math (this one is FREE!)

Uber Smart Math Facts 

Cap Jack's Math Facts 

Times Tales

Mad Dog Math

Math Facts Now

and if none of that tempts you, you can always go to Youtube and find some math facts songs to sing with your kids!

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Please visit my fellow homeschool bloggers who are talking about Discovering Patterns: Math and the Mathematical Sciences this week:

Finding Our Math Equilibrium: Our Plan for 11th, 7th, 5th, and 2nd Grades + Free Printables! by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds
Math Resources and Programs for All Ages by Amanda H @ Hopkins Homeschool
Math (doesn't) Stink! by Jennifer King @A Peace of Mind
When Math is NOT Your Thing by Michele@Family, Faith and Fridays
Math U See and All the Supplements by Laura H @ Four Little Penguins
Discovering Patterns in Our World: STEM Studies by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World
Junior High Math by Jennifer @ A Glimpse of Our Life
Science & Math for Struggling Learners by Yvie @ Gypsy Road
Maths: a subject in progress by Sarah @ Delivering Grace
Taking Mathematics out of the Textbook by Dana Hanley @ Roscommon Acre
Maths for a Very Maths-y Boy by Lizzy @ Peaches At Home
Practical Math by Annette @ A Net in Time
One of the greatest benefits of homeschooling by Kim @ Good Sweet Love
Math, How I Loathe Thee by Shecki @ Greatly Blessed
Math and Logic in Early Elementary and Preschool {virtual curriculum fair 2017} by Meghan W @ Quiet In The Chaos
Low Stress High School Science and Math by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool
Are these toys or manipulatives? This is math? by HillaryM @ Walking Fruitfully
When You Don't Have a Math Plan by Brittney @ Mom's Heart
Clear Horizons by Lori H @ At Home: where life happens
A Few Thoughts on Teacher Math by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset

And if you want to link up your own math post, feel free to below!

Jan 9, 2017

Use Your Words

Welcome back to the 2017 Virtual Curriculum Fair! This fair is a group of homeschool mom bloggers, led by Susan from Homeschooling Hearts and Minds, who are writing every week in January to offer encouragement and inspiration. Last week, we talked about How We Learn, this week, our topic is Playing with Words.

If you know us at all, you know we are not that great at numbers. (Well, except for one random kid who IS and we don't really know how that happened.) What we love are words. Books, stories, lists, facts, conversations, deep discussions, lots and lots and lots of words.

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Even so, Language Arts in our schoolwork has not always been the easiest thing to line out for us. It took us years to figure out what worked best for us when it comes to learning Grammar and Spelling.
(I talk about our discovery of Fix It! here, and we have come to love All About Spelling for spelling.) Three out of four of my kids struggle with writing by hand and one of those is beyond a struggle and has entered an all out war.

It is interesting to me that while we love talking, for some of us, there can be quite a disconnect between saying what we want to share and physically writing (or typing) it out. I have come to the conclusion that for my youngest three kids, this is simply an organizational skill that they have not developed. When they tell me what they are thinking, none of us are really looking at that hard at grammar, punctuation (I have a couple kids who don't use any when they are truly passionate about the subject they are talking about), paragraphs, or even organizing their thoughts into proper order. They just chatter and I listen. But when they write stuff down, especially if it is for school, then that is where the trouble comes in.

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Now, I do have one kid who just does not do well with the physical act of writing by hand. For him, we are trudging along with lots of practice and attempting some hand strengthening exercises. But that is only a small part of the point of this post.

We have used several different curriculum in an attempt to teach my kids how to write. Even though none of them have been the perfect fit we were looking for, I do not regret a single one. And it's not just a matter of "learning from our mistakes" because I can not honestly think they were mistakes. We have learned from each and every one that we have tried. And when I say "we" I mean, the kids have learned something about how to write, and I have learned something about how to teach writing. Both of which are quite valuable. I think.

But now (and this is really the point of this post) we are going to try something new. My oldest, a 14 year old girl, who writes stories for fun, is just going to keep on working her way through One Year Adventure Novel. But the other three are going to just practice writing.

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For the 4th and 5th graders, I am going to let them chose whatever they want to write about. I will start with expecting a couple sentences a day. We are going to follow the IEW idea of introducing a concept and then expecting them to use that concept. Since they are flat out beginners, I am going to start small and simple. We are going to begin with the idea of what a sentence is and what you have to include in one (capital letters, punctuation, no fragments, etc). I know that will be super easy for them, but I want to start with super easy so they build confidence quickly and we can move forward to the harder stuff rapidly.

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My 7th grade son, who has had more experience with writing, will be given assignments such as "Choose a dog breed to research and then write a report about it" and "write a report on the history of Pokemon" and "write a persuasive paper on the benefits of letting kids use technology".

These are the kinds of topics that interest him, since dog breeds, Pokemon and technology are his current passions. Since I have his interest right from the start, he will be more willing to work with me as I hold his hand through the process.

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My goal for him (and the younger ones, also, but more long term for them) is to learn how to write Narrative, Descriptive, Persuasive and Expository essays.

So those are my goals, but I admit that I am holding them lightly in my hands. I often have grand ideas about teaching my kids and sometimes they work gloriously. Other times, they are a dismal flop. But, like I said before, we learn from our mistakes, so I am not too worried either way. At least they will all have a little more practice and experience using their words.

Click on the links below to see what other bloggers have to say about Playing with Words. And if you want to join in with a post of your own, link up on the linky at the bottom!

Please visit my fellow homeschool bloggers who are writing about Playing with Words this week:

All posts will be live by Monday, January 9th at noon EST.
Delight Directed High School English by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds
Act Your Part Well- 2017 VCF by Lisa @ Golden Grasses
The Search For Language by Michele@Family, Faith and Fridays
Our Top Picks for Language Arts by Amanda H @ Hopkins Homeschool
Multiple Approaches to Language Arts in 2017 by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World
How We Cover the Language Arts in Our Homeschool by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory
Use Your Words by Laura @ Four Little Penguins
The Art of Perfecting Macarons by Jennifer @ A Glimpse of Our Life
Loving Languages Every Day by Jen K @ A Peace of Mind
Speech Therapy & Elementary Latin by Yvie @ Gypsy Road
The Readin' and Writin' Part of Homeschool by Shecki @ Greatly Blessed
Children Who Love Books by Lizzy @ Peaches At Home
Customizing High School Language Credits by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool
A Poetry Feast by Sarah @ Delivering Grace
Teaching Language Arts without Curriculum by Brittney @ Mom's Heart
I know your pain and it is worth it! by Kim @ Good Sweet Love
Language Arts: Our Style by Annette @ A Net in Time
Words! Words! Words! by Lisa M @McClanahan 7
10 Wonderful Word Games (+1) by Lori @ At Home: where life happens
Finding the Right Words by Kym @ Homeschool Coffee Break
What About Reading Comprehension? by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset
Teaching Grammar and Writing Through Discussion by Chelli @ The Planted Trees

Jan 4, 2017

Homeschool Review Crew: The Beginner's Bible

When Kaytie and Nate were babies, we somehow acquired a little book of Bible stories. It quickly became a favorite and Daddy read them a story or two from it every night before bed. As Daniel and Abbie came along, they became a part of the tradition and then took over it as Kaytie and Nate gradually became too old for the simple little tales. Our copy was very old, battered, and in pretty rough condition when I passed it on to a friend for her kids.

Then we were asked to review The Beginner's Bible  from Zonderkidz and the kids took one look and exclaimed, "I remember that Bible!"

The Beginner's Bible {Zonderkidz}

Sure enough, it was an updated version of our old family favorite.

The Beginner's Bible  is a thick, sturdy, hard back book filled with stories. These stories, although taken straight from the Bible, are adapted to simple, easy language perfect for a toddler. The stories are just long enough to hold the attention of a preschooler without omitting any important bits.

There are about ninety-five different stories. They are laid out in Old Testament and New Testament, just like a real Bible. Each page has a bright, colorful, engaging picture that illustrates the text.

Even though all of my kids have out grown this Bible, I agreed to review it with the idea of using it with the 3 year old that we babysit. He loves to be read to and he enjoys Bible stories. He is the perfect age for the stories in this beautiful Bible story book. All excellent reasons to review the product.

All the same, the day it came in the mail was a busy one so after I opened the package, I laid the book on my desk and pretty much forgot about it.

The next morning, when the little guy came to our house, he noticed the Bible still on my desk. Now, my desk is generally off-limits to all the kids, but he seemed to somehow know that this book was just for him.

He picked it up and took it to the couch, where he spent the next thirty minutes or so leafing through the pages, looking at the pictures and just enjoying the whole experience.

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Eventually, he took a break long enough to pose for an adorable picture.

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The Beginner's Bible has the stories ordinarily told to little children, like Noah's Ark, Jonah, Daniel and the Lion's Den, the Christmas story and many of Jesus' miracles. But it also has many stories that are left out of the typical toddler stories, like Deborah, Gideon and Hannah's tales, Elijah on Mount Carmel and  the chariots of fire. Each story is kid friendly, telling the true story in a non-frightening way without any "gory" details a child isn't yet ready to hear.

The girls had so much fun reliving the memories and sharing the love with the baby as they read him the stories they loved when they were his age.

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This is, in my opinion, the perfect Bible story book to get for your baby because it will last for years as your child grows. You read it to them when they are tiny and then they can read it to you as they learn how. The stories set a firm foundation for your child to stand on as he/she moves into school age. The memories you make reading The Beginner's Bible will last a life time.

The Beginner's Bible {Zonderkidz}

The Beginner's Bible {Zonderkidz}

Crew Disclaimer

Jan 2, 2017

Us-Schooling Because We Are Us, Not Someone Else

So the month of January is the traditional month of The Virtual Curriculum Fair. Led by Susan at Homeschooling Hearts and Minds, a group of homeschool mommy bloggers get together every year and write posts of encouragement and inspiration in order to, hopefully, get us all over the mid-winter blahs. This week, we are talking about See How We Learn. At the end of the post, I have the list of all the bloggers participating so you can check out what everyone has to say!

Homeschool moms, whether brand spanking new or old timers, all like to compare notes with other homeschool moms. Put even two of them together and the questions start flying:

What curriculum do you use for...?
How do you teach...?
What do you do with your toddler...?
Have you ever used...?
How do you handle housework?
When do you find time to...?

I love these conversations and I feel that we can all gain a lot from gleaning advice and wisdom from others' experience. However, they can also cause a lot of stress and pressure if we aren't careful. Comparing ourselves, our kids, our school, to someone else, anyone else, can leave us feeling inadequate or envious. Or we can try to force ourselves into a method or a lifestyle that just simply won't work for our family, our personality, or our circumstances.

I have listened to a lot of conversations over the years. I have read a lot of blog posts. I have delved deeply into many different methods and philosophies of home education. And I have gathered a lot of useful tips and tricks and helpful information. But I have also run across a ton of ideas and philosophies and ways of doing things that just don't work for us. And that's ok. God created me as an unique individual and gave me four specific individuals to raise and educate. How I do that should not look exactly the same as anybody else.

That is, after all, the beauty of homeschooling. We have to freedom to listen to others, to learn about methods, to explore philosophies and then to take what works for us and discard the rest. We are free to mold our homeschool in the way that gives our kids the optimal learning environment for them specifically.

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All that being said, I am going to share with you a few tips and tricks as to how we get things done around here.

A year or so ago, I read a blog post that talked about homeschooling being a Job. It is the work I have been given by God and I should do it well. I should take it as seriously as I would a job that I receive an actual paycheck for doing. I can't tell you how that thought revolutionized our school. We went from me thinking every morning, "Do we HAVE to do school today?" to me thinking, "Let's get started and get this done well!"

The change in my attitude created a change in the kids' attitude. Now, school is an expected thing every day unless we are on a pre-planned break. One morning I was sick and, after getting everyone up, I went to lay down for a minute. My husband told me I should probably skip school that day since I was feeling so badly. But when I went to tell the kids, they had already started working!

So our first step in "getting it done" is to set up a routine that you follow every single day. It can be super complicated and intricate, or it can be as simple as a read aloud and everybody do math. Whatever you need to get done in a day, set it up as a routine and do it every day.

We do our schoolwork at a set time each day, and we work in the morning because that is what works best for us. But back in the day, the two older kids and I worked in the afternoon because that's when the babies took naps. I expect, someday, at least one of my kids will work best in the evening. We aren't morning people, after all. But the important thing is to have a routine that works for your family and to do just do it every day until you no longer have to even think about it any more.

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In addition to our routine, I set up a system that takes all the decision making out of the daily equation for me. The kids have lists of what they need to do every day. I have a list, too. The lists are set up at the beginning of the year and I never think about them again unless they stop working for us. The kids know what they need to do each day. They know when they reach the end of the list that they are done. It sets all of us up for success.

I also give them as much independence as possible. If they have to wait for me to teach them every single lesson, we will not get much done. I am a low-energy person and there are four of them. But I can easily put "read science book" on their list and then have them narrate the reading to me. They are taking responsibility for their learning and I saved myself a lot of energy. Energy that I am going to need to get everybody through their math without losing some sanity.

And finally, my last trick is that we mix a lot of methods in our school.

We follow a lot of Charlotte Mason's philosophy in that we are literature rich and I expect the kids to do the work. They are responsible for engaging their brains, doing the thinking, and making the connections, We keep our lessons short and provide a lot of variety in learning. I expose them as much as I can to poets, artists, authors and composers. I teach character by demonstrating it modeled by real people and literary ones.

But we use a lot of non-CM curriculum. I don't use her philosophy as my "go to" measuring stick for how to teach. We don't do Shakespeare, we don't study Plato, we learn grammar by other methods than copywork and dictation and, frankly, we are really horrible at the art of narration.

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Because of our dabbling in the Montessori method, I give them a lot of "control" over their learning. We discuss goals of their education and methods to get the job done. I let them weigh in on curriculum. They give me input on ways and means of ordering our days. (Although I do retain the final say). I have them do a lot of real life things like cooking and cleaning and taking responsibility for themselves.

But we don't have a "prepared environment". I have never "followed the child". We did not follow the math method. It makes my head swim to think of all the materials I would need to follow Montessori to a T.

We do a form of "unschooling" in the afternoons when they learn whatever and however they choose. One summer the boys did almost nothing but study insects in the form of catching them, building habitats for them, and raising them. Kaytie chooses art and writing in her free time.

But Unschooling as a method is not for us. I don't have the discipline nor the brain power to do it correctly and I am not about to do it badly. I need curriculum, structure, and someone telling me what I need to do next in no uncertain terms.

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We also follow the traditionalists in that we have set school times, a set curriculum, and certain expectations to live up to. We also are not adverse to using a textbook or a worksheet if that is what gets the job done best.

But we don't do grades. We work for mastery. We are also pretty flexible about our textbooks. We comfortably skip a chapter or two. We add hands on stuff when we feel like it. We make our curriculum work for us and conform to our needs instead of letting it rule us.

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We also use Unit Studies and Lap Books and Notebooking although I don't know exactly what method they come from.

We do a ton of our work on the computer and I don't know what method that would fit into at all.

Lately, I have started outsourcing our work... Kaytie and Nate are taking a Spanish class taught by another mom. Kaytie has earned a couple of credits at our co-op. And I have my eye on a high school level science class for next year.

I guess that makes us Eclectic, but I usually just say we are Us-Schoolers. Because we do what works for us. And my best advice is that you should, too.

I invite you to see how my fellow bloggers learn in their homeschools (note: all posts will be live by noon EST, Jan. 2nd):

The Evolution of Our Homeschool by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds
Us-School Because We Are Us, Not Someone Else by Laura @ Four Little Penguins
It's All About the School by Michele @ Family, Faith and Fridays
Setting the Stage- the 2017 Virtual Curriculum Fair! by Lisa N. @ Golden Grasses
New Year, New Goals, New School! by Amanda H @ Hopkins Homeschool
Homeschooling - A Glimpse into How We Do it by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory
Spotlight on How We Learn in Our Homeschool by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World
Our Unique Eclectic Homeschool  by Jennifer @ A Glimpse of Our Life
How We Learn on the Go by Jacquelin @ A Stable Beginning
Home Education - 10 Ways We Make It Work by Lizzy @ Peaches At Home
Schedules, where would I be without them? by Kim @ Good Sweet Love
Education at Our House by Shecki @ Greatly Blessed
Starting the Day Well by Sarah @ Delivering Grace
Making a Change - Accountability and Responsibility Through Routine by Lori H @ At Home: where life happens
A time to be encouraged is coming.. the Virtual Curriculum Fair by Annette @ A Net in Time
Loving the Moment! by Jen K @ A Peace of Mind
Keeping Our Homeschool Organized by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool
Homeschool Goal Setting – Looking Forward, Looking Back by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset
How We Choose Curriculum by Brittney @ Mom's Heart
This Is How We Homeschool by Kym @ Homeschool Coffee Break
How we don't learn in our homeschool & how I don't plan {2017 Virtual Homeschool Curriculum Fair} by Meghan @ Quiet in the Chaos
Learning Our Way by Lisa @ McClanahan 7
Limping Along: Our Semi-Eclectic Approach to Homeschooling by Debra @Footprints in the Butter
2017 Virtual Curriculum Fair: See How We Learn by Dana L @ Luv'N Lambert Life

If you want to join us with your own blog post, add it to the linky:


Next week, we will be talking about Playing With Words.

Dec 30, 2016

Merry Christmas from The Cookie Decorating Elves!

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And because it just isn't Christmas without a Texas-shaped cookie!!!

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Dec 23, 2016

Gingerbread Houses 2016

Every year the kids like to make gingerbread houses. However, we have two problems with gingerbread houses. One, none of us like gingerbread. At all. 

Second, and probably more importantly, I am not the kind of cook nor the kind of person that plays well with fiddly things like making gingerbread and cutting it and all. 

So we cheat. We use graham crackers. This year, we got fancy and Kaytie made royal icing. This made the whole process much easier for the kids. 

On the other hand, we forgot to buy candy and stuff... so the kids used whatever was left over from Abbie's birthday ice-cream bar. They had a ton of fun!

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Daniel is the kid with the future in engineering. His house went up quickly and stayed up. It was the sturdy, well built house of the village.

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Abbie's had the most personality. There is an entire story about her house, including Santa on the roof. And yes, Santa did fall off at least once during the making of the village. However, he did not disappear and leave an empty suit...

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Nate had the most difficulty with construction. He is not a patient boy. So he tossed up some walls... asked for help from his siblings... and eventually settled for some male humor and walked away with a handful of stolen chocolate chips.

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Kaytie is the sibling with the eye for decoration. She is creative and loves things to be pretty. Her's was the most attractively decorated.

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She helped rebuild Nate's Jericho.

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Careful placement of the icing...

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Standing like a stork helps the icing set faster, I guess.

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Come on, Santa! Co-operate!!!

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Daniel's house. Complete with chimney.

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Built strong enough to survive monsters of all sorts.

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Abbie's house. Santa found a spot that was a little more secure than the pitched roof.

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Yea, Santa!!!

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Kaytie's house, covered beautifully in yummy chocolate.

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And Nate's house. The, ummm, "thing" on top is actually a reindeer.

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A very naughty reindeer who did not go potty before they left the North Pole.

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Merry Christmas from all four little penguins!!!!


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